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Vixen VC200L - 200mm F/9 Catadioptric Telescope Review

Jonathan Gale
November 2010

Reviewer Background

My interest in astronomy is a very practical one and I have used many manual telescopes, with some exposure to Skywatcher EQ6 mounts. My experience with the Vixen equipment was therefore the first major trial GO-TO scope. I am not an astro imager so the major use was for visual observing, although some images of Comet R1 MacNaught were taken earlier in the year.

My approach to this review is from the perspective of an observer who needs to assemble/disassemble the scope in a back garden for use and to take it out to viewing evenings

VC200L Optical Tube

This telescope is very solidly constructed and a major plus is the top mounted handle. I found it very easy to mount and the construction was complimented by those who saw the scope at Salisbury Star Party. I was surprised that the focuser was of the rack and pinion design; for the price bracket of the scope I expected to see a dual speed Crayford, which I felt would have given finer focus for planets. Whilst appreciating that maybe imagers would prefer a rack and pinion, for visual I would say a Crayford is superior. The flip mirror was satisfactory, but it appeared to be of lesser quality than the main

My only personal concern was the tube length dovetail mounting bar; I prefer the Vixen type which has a notch into which the main securing bolt and the secondary screw can fit. Granted this restricts the option for balancing, but I would prefer to slacken tube rings to balance rather than risk the tube sliding off the mount.

I was very impressed with the telescope. Messier 13, the globular cluster in Hercules, resolved to show distinctive stars, and Messier 27, the Dumbbell Nebula, gave one of the best views I have seen with a scope of this size. It was easy to split Epsilon Lyrae, the “double double” into its pair of doubles using a 5mm Hyperion.

In my early viewings, I do not think I gave the tube enough time to cool down; I believe that the guide cooling time for scopes of this type is around 45 minutes, but I found that after 1 to 1.5 hours the views improved markedly. One observer thought the collimation may be marginally out, but I have to say that was the only one.

Lunar views were superb with excellent clarity on craters and mare. Using a 24mm Hyperion eyepiece, I was able to get the entire disk just into the field of view. Lunar tracking was on target as well.
Planetary detail was again very good with Jupiter, Mars and Saturn being observed.

The illuminated finder was tricky to set up initially. The arrangement of Allen screws to align the back then the thumbscrews for the front was difficult as all required simultaneous adjustment to align the finder. I would have preferred to have spring loaded pins at the front to centralise the finder, with thumbscrews at the rear. I can appreciate that once set up in an observatory it is fine, and may allow for fine adjustment, but for assembly/disassembly I did not feel it was satisfactory.

Optically the finder was excellent, the only point of note was that the illuminated reticule was too bright even on its dimmest setting; I have not used one of these before so over brightness may be common to all finders of this type.

SXD Mount

This is one heavy duty mount, at least as far as I am concerned. I used both the VMC tube and my 5” refractor on it during the trial.

The mount is very solidly constructed and was easy to assemble and fix onto the tripod. I would have liked to see metal rather than plastic knobs for tightening the dovetail bolts and for the tension handle on the dovetail puck. The retractable counterweight bar is an excellent idea which I hope extends to the entire mount range. Again those who saw the mount seemed impressed with the construction.

For visual use, I usually did not need to polar align the mount as the GO-TO was accurate. However, we did polar align properly a few times and the person who did so, an experienced astro imager, said it was the best polar alignment scope he had ever used.

Setup & Use
Initial setup was fairly straightforward using the manual, but for someone who had not used a GO-TO before, I would have liked a crib sheet, much as Dell Computers do/did include for a quick start, or better still, an instructional DVD. In use the mount was smooth, but a little noisier than anticipated. I felt that the EQ6 is much quieter in operation, certainly in slewing, but the noise was not unacceptable to me. It would be interesting to do a side by side comparison, which I was unable to do.

A development point is the connectors for power and the Starbook; whilst neither gave any problems, I felt they seemed flimsy and could easily break; again maybe a low priority from an observatory perspective but critical from my perspective.

The mount certainly benefitted by proper levelling which obviously increased the initial accuracy of the GO-TO.

When using my refractor with the SXD I felt that for the first time I was getting the best from the tube being securely mounted and vibration free.

Star Book Controller
Having had only some exposure to the Skywatcher system, I enjoyed using the Starbook. Having the sky map to scroll around on makes sense to me and I think is also a valuable learning aid. I have noted comments from others regarding the perception of an outdated interface, but I do not think this to be significant; once you are used to the button configuration it is simple to operate, although dimly illuminating the buttons would be a good move. Additionally, menu options are easy to see and deduce as opposed to the Skywatcher ones which are linear and I never know how to start or where to go. I found that I could use the Star Book with minimal use of the instruction manual and operation was intuitive.

Notwithstanding this, I do believe there is a market for dealers to offer 1 to 1 training with setup and use; I am a professional IT trainer so am used to technology, but maybe for those who are less confident this offers a business opportunity for your dealer network.

I found the GO-TO accurate in use and whilst a 3 star alignment worked fine, my best accuracy was achieved with a 9 point alignment. I particularly liked the ease of aligning feature which I much preferred to the Skywatcher method. Only once did I have a problem when it did not slew correctly and that was my fault for not altering the long/lat coordinates.

The only issue with the Star Book I feel is the screen brightness; when fully dark adapted is still quite bright, even on its dimmest setting. Whilst this is not a problem for imagers, for visual observers it does cause vision problems. A red film overlay could be used, but if the screen can be dimmed further this is

The tripod proved very sturdy in use and the height was adequate for the VC200L. An extension would be required for comfortable observing toward the zenith when using a refractor.

30mm LVW (2” nosepiece)
I did not use this eyepiece with the VC200L as it did not have a 2” adapter; using it in various Dobsonian scopes made it my eyepiece of choice. I found it to be excellent on galaxies and planetary nebula such as Messiers 27 and 57. Whilst it is a large eyepiece, it is not unduly heavy and nothing like as weighty as the Skywatcher Nirvana I handled recently. Those who observed using it liked the field of view and no negative comments were made. I am reluctant to comment on issues such as coma as I am a spectacle wearer, but I did not notice anything of any significance.

15mm / 9mm NLV (1.25" nosepiece)
Both these eyepieces gave excellent views in the VC200L and the 15mm became the main eyepiece used in a Coronado PST Ha scope. The twist up eyecup was used a lot to alter eye relief. Used side by side with a Meade 5000 14mm, it became my personal preference.

Camera fittings
Also supplied were a focal reducer and ring fitting for a canon EOS DSLR. We did couple up a camera, but found the instructions lacked clarity as to the correct way to do it. Granted we were doing this in the dark using red light, which was not the best approach, but maybe a better diagram would be useful.

I enjoyed using this equipment and felt privileged to be using high end optics and mount. The bottom line is “Would I purchase it”? I would, given some enhancements/suggestions:
1. improved material for the knobs on the mount to give superior construction and durability
2. easier to align finderscope
3. dimmer illumination on screen of Star Book
4. illuminated buttons for Star Book
5. quick ref sheet / instructional DVD for those who have not had this level of technology
6. more robust connectors on mount for power and Starbook.